Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Business Idea

I found out at a green building workshop recently that a company in Oregon sells fake solar panels--although after some procrastinating-at-work googling, I could not find such a company.  Maybe they don't want to advertise this.

Whether such a thing actually exists a not, I could see the argument for there being a (small, novelty) market for such a thing.  Solar Power is Sexy, after all, especially in places like Oregon and California.  It's also expensive, but now you don't have to let the expensive stop the sexy! 

The same person who informed me that dummy solar panels are being produced also mentioned a survey in which subjects were asked about the most effective energy improvement method they could undertake.  The answer:  solar panels.  Now, that's just hearsay information at this point, because he was going off on a tangential soap-box by then and I didn't write the details down, thus the only survey I could find lists solar panels as among the most perceived-effective energy conserving strategies, rather than the most. 

Either way, this prominence goes to show you how strong the idea of doing "something to save the polar bears" has penetrated into our conscious and conscience,  even if the implementation hasn't--because lets face it, fake solar panels are probably a heck of a lot cheaper than real ones.  Yet it's also depressing, because it confuses "reducing energy consumption" with "something that makes energy" and in terms of priorities that gets the cart before the horse so much you need a completely different metaphor.  That's like maxing out the college savings plan before having the kid.  Still a net good thing to have done, but it is a lot more prudent to take care of the things that are just as important and yet less expensive to manage first.

Now that I'm partially in the insulation and energy efficient retrofit business, my colleague and I were trying to think of how to, you know, sell this stuff.  Make people cross that chasm from interest in having us do an energy audit to acting on the areas of energy efficiency improvements we identified.  Some of the common problems we see are pretty expensive, but some of them aren't, and in general energy efficiency saves money in the long run, sometimes considerable money.  We do all kinds of number crunching:  look!  If you upgrade that old water heater you're going to save three hundred dollars a year!  You're going to spend way more money in the long run if you DON'T put more insulation in, even though putting insulation in costs some money right now!  The power company will give you $400 for doing this *in addition* to the money you'll start saving right away! 

But I wonder if throwing financial benefits at people really does much for people who aren't very money savvy.  People may want to save money, but they can do it in other ways, and they want to save energy more because it's the right thing to do.  There are plenty of eco- conscious or energy conscious people out there who would be of the mindset to see why this stuff is valuable and yet a lot of them don't bite.  Yet many of these people want to put in solar panels--that's our crowd.  Some of them actually will pony up that particularly huge investment. We just did an energy audit on a guy's house who had a beautiful collection of photovoltaic panels--and he'd never once set foot in his almost un-insulated attic.  And that's fine, that's wonderful, I'm a solar aficionado myself--but they'd all still be wasting less net energy, burning less net fossil fuels, putting less net tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, etc as their motivations for getting solar panels go, if for example they updated the shit-job insulation in their 100 year old house.  They could have put less money in on a smaller solar system (not to be confused with the solar system) if they'd invested in energy efficiency first. 

But energy efficiency isn't tangible.  You don't get a sexy solar panel to put on your roof.  It makes tons of financial sense but you don't get a wad of cash, you just part with less of it on a regular basis.  There is something to be said for receiving something you can see or touch.

So that's what we ought to do!  That's my big marketing idea.  Any insulation or air sealing job we perform will hereby come with a free fake solar panel.

(We're not really going to do this.)

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